Corpus-Based Vocabulary Learning in Technical English

T. Polic, and E. Kurelovic. International Journal of Computational Linguistics (IJCL) 12 (3): 35-54 (August 2021)


One of the main challenges posed in front of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) teachers in developing syllabi at higher education level is the choice of vocabulary to be taught. This issue is particularly prominent in technical English, which apart from being abundant in nouns, requires students to learn the other highly frequent noun-based structures such as multi-word lexical units (MWLUs). Learning how to cope with these condensed structures both in reading and writing, will make the students competent and self-confident ESP users. The choice of lexical items is usually left to teachers’ intuition. This paper intends to assist teachers in avoiding addressing the issue by making such intuitive decisions, offering the model of incorporating the corpus-based vocabulary findings into their ESP syllabi instead. Thus, the research questions addressed in this paper are: Can a computer software extract all the nouns, MWLUs and multi-noun lexical units (MNLUs) with 100% certainty? What is their precise number in the pedagogical corpus of English for Traffic and Transport Purposes (ETTP)? The paper approaches the issue from the analytical point of view, i.e. by instructing the teacher-researcher step by step in analysing the pedagogical specialized corpora, including the possible problems they might encounter using irreplaceable, yet not completely accurate computer software for the purpose. The paper proposes original solutions to overcome the encountered imperfections in order to get accurate and evidence-based lists of most frequent nouns, MWLUs and MNLUs, making some extra effort by manually complementing the computer-based analysis. By applying the methodology proposed by this paper teachers-researchers will no more have to wonder which nouns and MWLUs and MNLUs to teach, since they can create accurate lists by themselves. Furthermore, a specialized pedagogical corpus analysis provides a valuable basis for creating glossaries and specialized minimum dictionaries, serving as a source for creating syllabi and lexis oriented exercises, as well as for designing language tests – all of it with the ultimate scope of improving students’ lexical competencies in a specific field of study.

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